Sunday, then, was the good fortune they felt was overdue. Even after the Cowboys — led by their poised rookie quarterback Dak Prescott — tied the score, 28-28, in the fourth quarter. Even after they tied it again, 31-31, the Packers weren’t rattled.
Rodgers slowed his breaths to calm himself. Crosby reminded himself to stick to his routine and do his job. On Sunday, that job was a 56-yarder to give his team the lead, then a 51-yarder to deliver its thrilling 34-31 victory.
“Honestly, you feel the adrenaline, the crowd shaking the building, and you try to block it out the best you can,” Crosby said, after making a series of kicks that could very well be the highlight of his career.
What a moment for Crosby, a self-described “Texas boy” from Lubbock who grew up cheering for the Cowboys. He actually made three 50-plus yard field goals in the final minute and a half, converting the game-winner twice because the Cowboys iced his first attempt just before he swung his leg and banged it through.
And what a moment for Rodgers, whose precision and skill prompted double-takes.
With 12 seconds remaining, he threw a perfect 36-yard pass to tight end Jared Cook, who kept his size 15 feet inbounds while the rest of his body seemingly landed out. Cook’s improbable catch was the pinnacle of a game that was the pinnacle of this N.F.L. season.
It was also surreal, considering the Packers’ recent bad luck in the playoffs. A year ago, Rodgers had thrown a desperation touchdown to force overtime in that playoff loss to the Cardinals, only to see his team lose the overtime coin toss and never get to touch the ball again.
This time when he delivered in the playoffs, it wasn’t for naught.
The league can thank the Packers for putting some spice back into what had been a dreary playoff show so far, but the Cowboys also deserve some gratitude.
The Cowboys also have a past. It goes way back to Tom Landry and Roger Staubach and the Super Bowl titles of the 1970s and ‘90s. But it’s also a past of America’s Team falling short, year after year, since it last won a championship, in 1996.
But this season brought Dak Prescott, a fourth-round draft pick who replaced an injured Tony Romo in the preseason and never looked back. He won 13 games. He nearly won Sunday’s, too. With the confidence and coolness he has shown all season, Prescott nearly matched Rodgers in yards (302, just behind Rodgers’s 356) and head-spinning plays.
When Rodgers led Green Bay to what seemed to be an insurmountable lead, Prescott led Dallas right back, tying the game with a pass to Dez Bryant and a 2-point conversion sprint. When Rodgers put the Packers in position for a Crosby field goal that seemed to clinch victory, Prescott drove the Cowboys right back for one by Dan Bailey.
When Rodgers and Crosby produced yet another memorable moment, only the expiration of the clock denied Prescott a chance a match that, too. He had lost his first playoff game. It does not appear that it will be his last.
“I plan to play in many more of them,” he told reporters afterward.
Prescott said it right. The Cowboys are a team of the future, with young guys like him and the fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott, who had most of his 125 rushing yards in the second half on Sunday.
The Packers, though, are a team of the present. And they have had it with bad playoff luck.
If they can get past the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, and if the Patriots beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, it could set up a Super Bowl even more classic than Sunday’s Packers-Cowboys game: Rodgers versus Tom Brady.
The Patriots have a past, too, you see, one studded with success and scandal and as many Super Bowl titles as Titletown.
Rodgers just wants to get back there. And Cook, the tight end with the big feet and the soft hands, is trusting that he will.
“He just always makes it happen,” Cook said.
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